Sunday, January 31, 2010

Boosted by the Phonebook

Product photo of a child's booster seat that looks like a big fat yellowpages book
You know the Yellow Pages are doomed to irrelevancy when someone makes a product that mocks their irrelevancy (and the creative uses we all put them to).

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Intellectual Dozens

A couple of insults I've read lately that made me laugh:

"Obama’s real problem is not Obama or his own policies; Obama’s real problem is that in Congress, his allies are incompetent cowards and his adversaries are smug dicks." John Scalzi's State of the Union post on his blog Whatever, January 28.

"As we passed Houston, with its dirty, smoggy air, I thought that Dante would have been inspired by its sight to name a new layer of Hell. I'd know that I must have done something terrible in a former life if I had been condemned to live there." Michael D. Yates, Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate: An Economist's Travelogue.

Houston buildings obscured by brownish smog
It's good to be able to cross at least one city off my list of places to visit.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Step Away from the Car

"The Net has a few holes in it," a Star Tribune story from January 25 informed us. Reporter Jean Hopfensperger did a good job of relating the tribulations of people who live where the interweb don't shine.

But did anyone else notice the absurdity of the details described in the lead?

Jim Martinson had no idea he'd beamed into a time warp after he bought a house about 20 miles east of St. Cloud. A technology consultant, he planned to run a home business and stay in touch online with friends in the Twin Cities.

Much to his dismay, his house sits in a slice of Minnesota with no high-speed Internet service, just dial-up. If he wants to view a photo attachment, he clicks on OPEN and heads upstairs for a nap. Download and install antivirus software? That's a full night's sleep.
Now, I can understand if a person buys a house somewhere, assuming -- in this day and age -- he'll be able to get a high-speed connection for his new digs. But if I was planning to move my business to that location, and it wasn't right in a city... and I was an IT consultant for pity's sake, I think I might make sure before I handed over the down payment.

To add insult to injury, the story starts out with a photo of Martinson sitting in his car typing on his laptop computer. The caption reads: "IT consultant Jim Martinson does not have access to high-speed Internet at his home in Foley, so he parks outside libraries to use their free Wi-Fi for work."

Excuse me, Mr. Martinson, but you know -- you can go inside the library and use the free Wi-Fi. That way you don't have to run your car to stay warm as you do you work. And you'd be part of the world instead of another atomized American, isolated inside a hunk of aluminum and plastic.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Infantilize Me, Please

British Airways full-page ad showing a vintage photo of a young mother cradling an infant. The baby's head has been replaced with a color photo of a white-haired man's head. He's asleep
How's this for a strange promotional concept? There must be some psychosexual undercurrent at work, but I never wanted to figure it out.

The small headline at top says "The new Club World cradle seat. Lullaby not included."

Aside from the general depravity, the thing that gets me about it the most is that the man's head is not the right scale for a baby's body. And I feel sorry for the poor mommy, left with this self-satisfied, snoozing changeling.

(I think I clipped the ad from Time magazine in the early 1990s.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A New Meaning for Baby Doll

Does anyone remember this?

Ad for Mommy-To-Be dolls, with white and black pregnant dolls pictured
I think the ad is from the early 1990s. The copy helpfully points out that you can "take off her tummy, and there's her baby. Lift out the newborn with moveable arms and legs, and now she has a flat tummy."

Closeup showing how the baby can be removed and replaced with a flat stomach
I also clipped a New York Times column by Anna Quindlen about the dolls, in which she describes the baby removal process as "a cross between a C-section, a tummy tuck and an Easter egg hunt."

Then and now, I find the photo of the smiling doll -- flat on her back, with her torso opened up like a porthole -- revolting.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Brian Lambert Gets an Airing

Lambert to the Slaughter graphic
Great post by Brian Lambert on The Same Rowdy Crowd. Taking the announced death of Air America as a starting point, he ruminates on talk radio, why liberals don't make good dittoheads, and Obama's tribulations.

Well worth reading... even if he did end by using the term "take-away" -- the catchphrase of the decade.

Note: I had a total popular culture brain misfire when I originally titled this post... so attentive readers may notice that the post's URL refers to Adam Lambert of American Idol fame, rather than Brian Lambert, Twin Cities media critic. It just goes to show, we all need copy editors.

Monday, January 25, 2010

His Boy Elroy

Red button with Elroy Jetson on it, label His Boy Elroy
I have quite a button collection (most of them of a political nature, surprise surprise!) but some are just for fun. I recently found this one in the basement.

I was a Jetson's fan as a kid, and when I first got this button around 1990, it brought back the flying cars, robot maid, and instant food I always found so fascinating.

I came across the button before the beginning of the interweb, before every television show ever made was available on DVD or even VHS (let alone YouTube), before there was a band called Jane His Wife... when the only way we had to remember the cultural artifacts of our childhoods was with our memories.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Orientated, If Not Informated

One-panel cartoon showing a man standing at an Information Desk, saying I'd like to be informated, please
As always, Dan Piraro nails a little piece of the zeitgeist (and the zeitgeist says "Autsch!").

Can I get a show of hands from those who feel pain whenever they hear the word "orientate"?

When I was 17 I had a boring summer job, and spent part of my time making a list of as many English words ending in "-ate" as I could think of. It was a substantial list, but orientate was not on it.

Writer Paul Niquette wrote a short essay on this "back-formation" of verbs when creating his list of 101 Words I Don't Use. He includes a list of other misguided back-formations (some I particularly liked were combinate, confrontate, explanate, hospitalizate, and observate). Unfortunately, a few on his list are ones I've actually heard with some frequency: administrate, destinate, documentate, fermentate, and prolongate.

When Niquette wrote his rumination in 2005, he concluded by saying, "Fastenate your seatbelt: The verb 'orientate' appears on the web at more than 1,600,000 sites." My current search, surprisingly, shows the number receding to 1,300,000 occurrences.

Now don't you feel more informated than ever?

See more Bizarro cartoons at

Saturday, January 23, 2010

So Funny It Hurts

Photo of blond smiling woman with three children
Did you hear the one about the woman who was heading to Mystic Lake Casino on Interstate 35E, sipping vodka from a glass while her 10-year-old daughter was in the car?

The Pioneer Press says her car was already damaged when police saw her make "a quick, jerking movement to enter the 35E ramp and go southbound," nearly striking a curb. After entering the highway:

The SUV drove on the roadway's shoulder for about 50 feet before veering toward the far outside lane and then veering back, overcorrecting back and forth three times, the complaint said.

Police stopped the vehicle and interviewed the driver, 44-year-old Sheri Lynn Delich, whose eyes they described as bloodshot and watery. She told them she was on her way to the casino and had consumed one vodka drink, the complaint said.

"When asked how large the vodka drink was, defendant picked up an orange glass from inside the vehicle which was approximately 20 to 32 ounces in size. Officers observed there were a few ice cubes inside the cup as well as a dark-colored liquid," the charges state.

Delich, who failed sobriety tests, was placed inside a squad car, where she was "crying, yelling and banging her head on the cage."

She allegedly refused a breath test. The county attorney's office charged her with second-degree refusal to submit to testing, second-degree driving while impaired and child endangerment, all gross misdemeanors. She faces up to a year in jail if convicted.
Curious to find out more about a person with such monumentally bad judgment, I couldn't resist Googling her. To her misfortune, "Sheri Delich" appears to be a unique name, so she was easy to find:
  • She's a part-time real estate agent in Bloomington, a southern suburb of Minneapolis.
  • She listed herself as a child care provider (!) on CraigsList, and includes her cell phone number there as well as the photo shown above. Her qualifications to take care of your kids are that she has three wonderful children, ages 2, 5 and 10, not to mention "I have cared for children all my life and beleive they are the greatest gifts from God."
  • She coordinates music for Bethel Baptist Church in Sunfish Lake (also in the southern suburbs), and has recorded at least one album of Christian music. I found her work phone number on this site as well.
  • She's on Facebook, where we're told that she's a fan of two things: Big Prize Giveaways and Deal Seeking Mom.

Of course, none of this is funny at all. There must be something seriously awry with her life that brought her to this moment. I wonder what will happen to her kids.

Facebook profile with same photo plus more details

Friday, January 22, 2010

Free Speech for People

Is it ridiculous to think we could pass a constitutional amendment stating that corporations are not people, under the law? (Arlen Specter doesn't seem to think so... see his tweet on the topic.)

Or was it ridiculous that corporations came to be considered people in the first place?

Blogger Mel at Henkimaa points out that if corporations were people, they'd be psychopaths. And she urges everyone to see the 2003 Canadian documentary The Corporation, which essentially made that point with many examples to back it up.

More on this:

Eric Black on the Filibuster

In a recent post about the Senate's filibuster constipation, MinnPost's Eric Black came up with this nice summary of the problem:

In the age of the permanent campaign, the out party tries to deny the in party anything that might make them look good or that the ins could claim as an accomplishment in the next election.
Black gives a brief but good history of the filibuster's use, pointing out that it was mostly a tool of segregationists who wanted to stall or kill civil rights legislation. One fine anecdote:
Every anti-civil rights filibuster had succeeded until 1964 when Minnesota's own Hubert Humphrey assembled the 67 votes needed to break the southern filibuster of the landmark Civil Rights Act. But Humphrey, floor manager of the bill, needed every vote, including that of Sen. Clair Engle of California, who was dying of a brain tumor and could no longer speak. (In the Senate, they vote by voice.) When the clerk called for Engle's vote on the cloture motion, he pointed to his eye, to indicate that he was voting "aye." I am not making this up.
Bonus -- If you ever wondered where the word "filibuster" came from, you'll find out in this article. It's one of the most appropriate derivations I can remember learning.

My recent post on the filibuster

Note: Eric Black is one of MinnPost's many ex-Star Tribune writers who took the buyout a few years ago.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Commercial Graffiti - No Thanks

The snow, as it ages in an urban setting, is bound to get a bit ugly, but who could possibly think it was improved by these additions?

Red spray-painted word TAN on a snowbank

Red spray-painted word DVDs on a snowbank
At first I thought the gas company was marking its territory, but then I realized it said TAN and DVDs... and it was located in the snowbank in front of my local video store and tanning parlor.

What small business owner in her/his right mind believes that spray-painting semi-legible red words onto a snowbank is going to bring in more business? I can't wait for it to snow some more and cover it up.

Seen in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Face at the Window

Cartoon called The Chalet. Two squirrels sit in easy chairs while a huge face grimaces at them from their wall. One squirrel says to the other, Ed, remind me again why we bought slopeside

A great example of humor delayed until the reader recognizes the setting. (Click on the art to to see it larger.)

From Hillary Price's Rhymes with Orange, January 15, 2010.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Not So Big House

It's not often I read something in Parade magazine that actually holds my attention for the entire (albeit brief) length of the copy. But last Sunday's Why We Gave Away Our Home by Kevin Salwen did.

Salwen's family of four decided to sell their "dream house," buy a much smaller place, and donate the difference to charity. It was the perfect rejoinder to my Rant on a Monster House from last week. Salwen wrote,

The four of us are living more tightly -- in a good way. In our previous house, the Ping-Pong table was buried in the little-used basement. Here, with nowhere else to put it, we stuck it in a walkway to the TV room, and now we play every day. Our piano had to be moved to the front room for similar reasons. Hannah often yells, "Joe, get out your guitar," and they'll duet on the only song she knows.
That's a pretty far cry from a heated pole barn for "toys" and a tiki bar. But maybe the folks with the monster house in Buffalo, Minnesota, are selling it to donate the proceeds to a charity they chose as carefully as the Salwens did. Who knows?

The Salwens have a book coming out, and a website to support it, called The Power of Half.

Six Myths About Taxes

I appreciated Miles Spicer's op-ed in today's Star Tribune: With No Race to Run, I Can Say It: Taxes. It's a clear, simple summary of the argument for taxes in a state where we've run out of money and our governor has held firm to a no-new-taxes pledge he made eight years ago.

Spicer frames his agument with the over-used myth construction, but I can forgive him for that:

Myth 1: U.S. citizens are taxed excessively.
Myth 2: America's corporate tax rate is too high.
Myth 3: Taxes inhibit, or are destructive, to economic growth.
Myth 4: Minnesotans are taxed excessively.
Myth 5: Companies will move out of state because of our taxes.
Myth 6: Government is inefficient, and our taxes are mostly wasted.

You'll have to follow the link to see what he said to support each of these claims.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Red Mittens

Bright red pair of handknit mittens
This is the last pair of mittens my paternal grandmother knitted for me.

She was always making something, whether by sewing, knitting or crocheting. I remember her darning my grandfather's socks, too. The darned spots looked knobby and uncomfortable, but I never had to wear them, so I'm not sure.

She had a root cellar full of pickles, tomatoes, and other canned vegetables from the large garden she tended with grandpa. They also grew roses, rhododendrons, hens and chicks, forget-me-nots, sweet peas and poppies.

My sisters and I never fully appreciated the things she made, whether it was a dress for one of us or miniature knitwear for our Barbies. Like others of our generation, we thought that things had to be bought to be good.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Vulcans Face Off in this Corner

Vulcan vs. vulcan comic -- winter carnival vulcan vs. Mr. Spock. Carnival vulcan wins
(Click to see it larger)

In honor of the St. Paul Winter Carnival, the Pioneer Press reprinted this vulcanized In This Corner comic... a favorite from David Steinlicht's Corner Comic archive. (Also available in book form as Cornered! A Slightly Askew Look at Our Pop-Culture Landscape.)

This comic reminds me how much I appreciate cultural references that are most intelligible -- and therefore funniest -- to people who live in a specific location and have local knowledge. Not everything is generica.

Update: For a fan of another PiPress illustrator, Kirk Lyttle, I can be a bit slow on the uptake. I just found out today that Lyttle did the illustrations for this year's Winter Carnival buttons, and (no surprise) they're the best looking buttons the Carnival has had for at least 20 years. Go Kirk!

I hear the bouncing girl button is particularly popular because they have hardly ever been shown on the buttons.

Russian Art in Minneapolis

Exterior of church-turned-museum with banner reading Explore the Art of Russia
Not many people know that Minneapolis is home to the "only museum in North America solely dedicated to the preservation and presentation of Russian art and artifacts." Founded in 2002 and opened in this renovated church during 2005, the Museum of Russian Art (TMORA) is a shining example of what a small museum can be: focused, immaculately kept, and well curated.

Growing up in Cold War America, I learned almost nothing about Russian art. At some point, I picked up the idea that it was all Socialist Realism, depicting happy workers in photorealstic detail, and that such a genre had no value.

TMORA shows that this stereotype is not accurate, exhibiting pre- and post-Soviet-era work, as well as Soviet-era work that's not about workers. However, I do find that I am drawn to the works that would be classified as Socialist Realism, particularly the ones showing women. The paintings I like best are not photorealistic, though, tending instead toward a more impressionist approach.

A tall vertical painting of two women shown at the front of a church-like space
One example is Yuri Pimenov's "First of May Celebration" (1950), a large canvas effectively displayed by the museum staff in the former church's apse. The 8.5' tall painting is on view in the U.S. for the first time.

Painting showing one woman standing on a ledge above another
In it, two young women work high on the facade of a building above a street where a triumphal parade will soon occur. I imagine the painter chose to show women instead of men because it provided a contrast with the U.S. way of life (not too many women were working up on our buildings in 1950), making a statement about equality under the Soviet system.

As they hang a red flag, they seem serious and even a bit dowdy, their hair wrapped up tight and their overalls baggy. But each one wears a black belt that cinches in the waist of her denims, and I couldn't help wondering if that belt was functional or meant to reveal a bit of vanity. I didn't see any tools hanging from the belts, and the painting clearly shows all four sides of one woman or the other, so if there were tools, they should have been visible.

Three milkmaids in white with kerchiefs lounge on grass against a fence, laughing
Another painting that stood out for me is Nikolai Baskakov's "Milkmaids, Novella" (1962). This is one of the most popular paintings in the museum's collection. Clearly, these are happy workers, but it's a human moment, not an artificial one.

A woman in a white kerchief shades her eyes
One last painting that stopped me was Vasili Kirillovich Nechitailo's "Team Leader" (1965). This isn't the whole image -- it's a full body image, down to her feet, as she pauses for a moment in the field. This is one woman in the exhibit who doesn't look happy -- heroic, in a sense, but not happy. The accompanying text quotes the painter's wife, remembering the day as very hot, yet the women workers were in a celebratory mood because of the harvest.

Entry art for Photographer to the Tsar
Despite being distracted by the women of Socialist Realism, the reason we went to the museum was to see the photographs of Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, who invented a way to shoot color photographs around the turn of the 20th century. He spent ten years photographing people and places throughout the empire for the last czar. The images in TMORA's exhibit are all from the trip he took along the Silk Road, which runs from Iran and China.

His method involved taking three separate photos at close intervals, using different filters to capture red, green and blue light. This means that if a picture has people or animals in it, you can sometimes see examples where there was motion between the three shots, which looks like blurs of blue, red or green.

Red and green double doors with blue trim
Buildings and landscapes are pristine, however, such as these gates to a tomb in Bukhara.

Colorful tile wall with patches of mortar in spots
The tile detail is beautiful, but the deterioration is almost as striking.

Nomadic man, woman and child sit in a field with their belongings
There are 26 photos in the exhibit, each shown as a large, backlit transparency. Almost all the images portray either buildings or men. Only two show women, as in this one of a nomadic Kyrgyz family on the steppe.

Young woman stands in front of a yurt, a red carpet at her feet
The only other woman is actually a girl, "the younger wife of a Turkman" in front of her yurt home in Merv. The red rug was made by Turkmen women, whose weaving skills were highly prized. "The distinctive red dye came from the boiled root of the madder plant, which grows wild in the desert," according to the accompanying text.

The photo exhibit is fascinating, and makes for a nice contrast with the paintings in the museum's collection. Because the photo subjects had to hold still as much as possible, they sometimes look less real than the people in the paintings. But the diversity of people and ethnicities in the photos, evidenced by their dress and the places they inhabit, is very different from the vision of Russia that is shown in the paintings.

More photos by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii:
On a website called
On the Library of Congress site

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Two Thoughts on Haiti

Maggie Koerth-Baker, a recent noteworthy addition to the BoingBoing crew, had one of the best responses to the Pat Robertson's mindless vindictiveness. Summarizing a [London] Times Online story, she wrote:

Haiti was forced to pay France for its freedom. When they couldn't afford the ransom, France (and other countries, including the United States) helpfully offered high-interest loans. By 1900, 80% of Haiti's annual budget went to paying off its "reparation" debt. They didn't make the last payment until 1947. Just 10 years later, dictator François Duvalier took over the country and promptly bankrupted it, taking out more high-interest loans to pay for his corrupt lifestyle. The Duvalier family, with the blind-eye financial assistance of Western countries, killed 10s of thousands of Haitians, until the Haitian people overthrew them in 1986. Today, Haiti is still paying off the debt of an oppressive dictator no one would help them get rid of for 30 years.

The rest of the world refuses to forgive this debt.

So, in a way, maybe Robertson is right. Haiti is caught in a deal with the devil, and the devil is us. (emphasis added)
Susan Perry at MinnPost wrote about recent research on human empathy as it does or does not move us to act in response to tragedies like the Haitian earthquake. For instance, one experiment demonstrated that people who saw the face of a single starving child gave twice as much money as people who were given statistics on the magnitude of the problem.

Perry quoted another blogger on the topic: "This is why we are riveted when one child falls down a well, but turn a blind eye to the millions of people who die every year for lack of clean water." Or, I might add, why hundreds of people will want to adopt a single abandoned baby or maliciously injured animal, but those same people don't adopt the many other parentless children or unwanted animals.

Unfortunately, as Perry notes, "The 2006 study made the rather discouraging finding that when people are taught to be aware of their bias toward the identifiable victim over the 'statistical' one, they don’t increase their donations to the statistical victims, but, instead, cut back on their donations to the individual ones." The reasoning (if there is any) might be, No matter how bad something is, there will always a worse disaster, right? So why act now?

What will it take for more knowledge to lead to more giving, rather than less?

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Movie Reviewer

The Book of Eli posterHow do you like your post-apocalyptic fiction? Perhaps as a pint glass of nuclear winter, followed by a Mad Max chaser? I generally go for stories that spin social trends out over time, examining what happens when things fall apart and people try to put them back together. I'm partial to the written form, but am willing to watch movies that sound interesting.

I've only recently recovered from reading The Road, so I haven't seen that movie. I don't need to see 2012 -- despite the fact that it stars John Cusack -- because its premise is stupid. But I was considering seeing The Book of Eli with Denzel Washington until I ran across the reviews in this weekend's Star Tribune and Pioneer Press.

And now I'm completely confused.

The Strib's Colin Covert hated everything about it, and gave away some semi-spoilers, too, along with one-and-a-half stars. Some of his more memorable quotes: "a futuristic action catastrophe, seemingly collaged together from the lesser works of Vin Diesel" -- the fact that the eponymous book is a Bible "feels like a cynical ploy to bring stay-at-home Christian audiences into the heathen multiplex" -- and "This is a world where thugs lie in wait endlessly beside a deserted highway in the expectation that someone will wander their way." (That always bugs me, too!) And he points out that the movie's premise -- that the Bible, despite having more copies in print than any other book, would be down to a single copy -- is pretty silly.

The PiPress's Chris Hewitt, on the extreme other hand, gave it one of his best reviews, along with four out of four stars. "From the first moment of 'The Book of Eli' to the last, I was enthralled," he begins. It's "emotionally engaging," "bracingly original," and "dazzling" in the way that Pulp Fiction was.

Hewitt called the ending "hugely satisfying," while Covert said it had a "last-minute surprise ending so arbitrary and bizarre it caused a member of the preview audience to drop his head into his hands and groan out loud."

So now I don't know what to think, or if the film is worth seeing. This isn't the first time I've noticed a huge divergence between these two reviewers. If I remember correctly, Hewitt has a much higher tolerance and even interest in aestheticized violence than Covert, so that may explain much of the disconnect. Although Covert liked Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds much more than Hewitt did, so maybe not.

Whatever. I may have to see it for myself.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Put Some Clothes on

I used to collect ads that featured gratuitous images of scantily clad women. You know the type -- the ones where a half naked gal is sprawled on the hood of a car.

But why bother writing an example when I've got a whole bunch to show? These are more or less in chronological order, some from before my time.

Old cigarette ad with woman in bathing suit
What's amusing about this is that the ad advises the bathing beauty to light an Old Gold cigarette not because it will help to drive away to beach bore, but because "its mellow fragrance will calm your raging tempest like nobody's business."

Almost naked woman modeling for an artist, her back to the viewer
This ad is selling paper to printers, in case you couldn't tell.

Headless woman in blue one-piece reaching for something in a cooler, a hand around her waist
I love the disembodied possessive hand around her waist.

Woman in red pants and white bra throws her arms up dramatically in front of a train, saying I dreamed I stopped traffic in my Maidenform bra
One of the strangest campaigns ever imagined by a mainstream ad agency.

Black and white photo of a woman in a bikini, repeated multipe times
Ads for printing-related products are great sources of gratuitous girlie shots. Whether it's chemicals...

Woman in a bathing suit, divided up with different screen conversions on parts of her body
... or selling different types of half tone and line effects.

Panty hose package with woman in short dress flaring up while man in hardhat, down in a manhole, looks up her skirt
A friend gave me this panty hose package in the early 1990s. He bought it at a small grocery store on Hennepin Avenue, just south of Uptown, Minneapolis. I assume (given the model's shoes) that it had been in the store for at least 20 years. As they used to say in Ms. magazine, "No Comment."

Naked woman in darkness, same women in a nightgown
This is an early 1990s two-page ad for a naked, nipple-free, high-heeled-but-shoeless woman. The headline on the left page reads "The most beautiful feeling in the world is just a touch away." Really!

Woman in blue jockey underwear, standing in her bedroom
This ad is also from the late 1980s. This use of a semiclad woman is not really so bad (after all, it is selling underwear). And given the trends of the past 20 years, I actually appreciate that the model appears to weigh more than 100 pounds.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Ten Commands

Cartoon of a bespectacled geek descending from a mountain holding a double tablet, a la Moses, except its content is the Mac command key symbol followed by Z, C, Q, etc.
This was clipped from a long-defunct publication called MacWeek in the late 1980s. For me, it brings back the days when computers were still new.

Plus, I love the pocketful of pens on his flowing robe.

Update: Credit to Nevin Berger — thanks for your work!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Rant on a Monster House

Someone built an 8,000-square-foot, custom McMansion in 2002 for their family with five sons (that's 1,143 square feet per person). But by 2010, they're selling it.

What went wrong?

Do they have to relocate the family somewhere else because they've been kicked even farther upstairs at work? Are mom and dad getting divorced? Did somebody lose a job, so they can no longer afford the obviously gargantuan payments?

This isn't just any suburban house, either. It's got a tiki bar...

Photo of an expensive-looking tiki bar

...and two-story, floor-to-ceiling windows with a stone fireplace...

Lots of windows and a stone fireplace

...overlooking a huge pool.

Large pool overlooked by badly designed back of a suburban house

(I can't get over how overblown the back of this house is. It looks more like a Wisconsin Dells resort than a house.)

There's also a media room with stadium seating and remote-controlled sound-proofing curtains. Other details mentioned in the story include Brazilian tigerwood flooring, landscaped grounds (11 acres) with lighted fountains and ponds, a lighted hockey rink, and "a heated pole barn with water and electricity that can be used to store 'toys'." Somehow, I bet every one of those lighted fountains has the same level of taste as the tiki bar or the "Tuscan-style main floor master suite."

As the Star Tribune's Sunday Homes section said, this house was "Built for fun" and "You can have it for $1.685 million."

I should also point out that it's located in Buffalo, Minnesota, which means it's at least an hour from Minneapolis, so whoever buys it is likely to get in some quality commuting time instead of living the good life at the house they spend all their time paying for.

Or maybe if someone really wants to spend that much money, they could live somewhere with reasonable comfort and a more ecologically thoughtful location, and donate the difference to someone who really needs it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mystery Photo

Pink dunes with weird dark red hair or plant things sticking out
You'll never guess what this is a photo of. Hint: It's not microscopic.

Via BoingBoing.

Dilbert, 1991

Two Dilbert cartoons about how technology will soon give us lots of information at our fingertips
(Click to see these larger.)

No one ever said Scott Adams could draw all that well, especially back in 1991, but he sometimes offers a keen insight on the collision of technology and culture.

For those not completely up on their history, the first website went live in August 1991. Google wasn't around until 1998.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Maps as Propaganda

Illustrated map of Europe with countries turned into people and animals
This remarkable map (another find from my basement) was reprinted in a cartographic calendar I had a long time ago. I don't know its source (I threw that part of the calendar away!) but it has a rubber stamp on it from the British Museum dated 1879.

The labels are in German, and its point of view is clearly German as well: Russia is a voracious fox or wolf ready to gobble up its neighbors, while heroic, sharp-eyed Germany grasps his sword in readiness.

Here's what the other countries are up to:

  • France is sharpening his blade, while keeping an eye on Germany
  • Spain is taking a siesta and keeping its foot on Portugal
  • Italy is dangling Sicily on a string (Sicily is wearing a barrel, which I assume means its people are poor)
  • Ireland is a whiny baby -- bib and all
  • England surveils the continent, while sitting atop Scotland
  • Mother Austria tries to hold back her child, labeled Uncarn (Hungary), as he faces off with Russia
  • Bizarrely, Sweden is holding a box labeled "safety matches"... not sure what that means
  • Denmark turns its back on Germany, sporting a bandage (?) as if it has a toothache
Wish I knew more about it, but that's all I know. Cool, huh?

Rays the Roof

The Infrastructurist has found a use for old suburban strip malls.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Letter That Never Was

In case you wondered, Daughter Number Three has been mouthing off about newspapers and other printed stuff for at least 35 years. I don't have much to show for the first several decades of all that ire, but I recently ran across a box of old clippings while cleaning out the basement. It's fun to remember what it was about each one that made me save it.

I'll be sharing some of the more interesting ones over the next several weeks.

First up is a pair of photo features from July 1994. Both the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune sent a photographer to a cover a summer camp for kids who had been adopted from Korea.

Photos of a group of boys doing martial arts and a single girl getting her eyes made up
The PiPress piece, shot by Scott Takushi, ran first.

A girl in a ropes course harness, and a bunch of younger kids walking along a road
The Strib photos, by Joey McLeister, ran the next day.

Did you notice anything? I did, at the time, and drafted a letter to the editor of the PiPress. I'm not sure if I actually sent it, but if I did, it didn't get published. Here's what my younger self had to say:

The photos printed on July 7's metro front page were meant to show adopted Korean children learning "Korean culture." But what did they really show?

A number of boys doing tae kwon do movements, and a girl getting her face made up.

These images say so many things: boys are active, girls are acted upon. Boys are athletic; girls are pretty/attractive. Aren't girls at the camp encouraged to learn tae kwon do also? Might they not need it just as much as (if not more than) the boys? Wouldn't it build their self esteem, too?

I don't know what pictures photographer Scott Takushi brought back with him from this visit, but I question the judgment that went into selecting these two photos to represent the camp.
In contrast, the Strib photos show a girl doing a ropes course and a number of girls and boys walking.

I know, I know... the letter sounds pretty academic and whiny. And looking at Takushi's tae kwon do photo today, I see that there is at least one girl in the background of the shot, although she's pretty much out of focus.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Dark Is Rising

All white satellite shot of Great Britain
I was confounded by this stunning image on BoingBoing... it's of England, Scotland and Wales under a blanket of snow, taken some time in the past few days. This is a part of the world where it hardly ever snows, with spring starting in February so that lots of flower are in bloom by April 1, and they can grow all sorts of plants that we can only dream about here in Minnesota.

As I recall Susan Cooper's young adult fantasy novel, The Dark Is Rising, a similar thing happened when Will Cooper was about to reach his full power as an Old One (the defenders of the Light).

In the book, snow blankets the Thames Valley heavily, to the point where roofs are crashing down. One commenter on BoingBoing sounded a bit like the novel: "It's quite extraordinary in South East England. I know that the rest of the country gets snow at least once a year but in the Thames Valley we hardly ever get it. I can count about 6 or 7 times in my entire life."

BoingBoing labeled this photo "Britain without the gulfstream," which reminded me of one abrupt climate change scenario I've heard about, wherein cold water from the melting ice caps cools the ocean and shifts the currents so that northern Europe (which is at the same latitudes as northern Canada) is no longer balmy.

BoingBoing was immediately taken to task for propagating an urban myth that the Gulf Stream is responsible for keeping Europe warm. A source at Columbia University says the warmth is partly from being on the east side of the ocean, and partly from atmospheric waves. That would be the Jet Stream, rather than the Gulf Stream. A NASA source attributes the warmth (and changes recently) to the Arctic Oscillation.

I'm not completely clear on all these different streams, but something is going on, of course. Whether it has anything to do with climate change, I have no idea. But I can't help thinking it could very well be the work of the Dark, as Susan Cooper would have it.

For perspective, though, we should all keep in mind the point made by one BoingBoing commenter:

You know what we call this [type of image] in Canada?


Friday, January 8, 2010

Snow Balls

You never know what you'll see when driving down our city's highways in a snowstorm. Gradually, I realized I was following a Ford F150 truck that had one of those peeing Calvin decals in the back window.

My eye traveled from Calvin to another decal on the window, then farther down to the rear bumper, where I realized the truck was sporting something even more offensive than Calvin. I couldn't take a photo at the time (I'm not that crazy, it was slippery!) but I soon discovered that what I had seen is well known, which allowed me to find this photo on the web, similar to what I saw:

Only the ones I saw were green, and were hanging below a hitch, which partially hid them.

Of course, I could ruminate here on the coarseness of some elements of our society, but all I can do is shake my head. The common metaphorical use of the term "balls," and all its related verbiage, is one I really don't understand.

"You don't have the balls to..." -- you're right. I don't. And just because you do, doesn't mean you have to decorate your truck with them.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tiny Funnies

Sunday funnies from the Pioneer Press with six different strips crammed in
Last Sunday's Pioneer Press comics section sank to a new level of compression... all of the comics were jigsaw-puzzled into four pages, with six comics on the front page. Wasn't it just recently that the page contained only three or maybe four?

And remember, this is a newspaper sheet that is already significantly smaller than it was 10 years ago. In my recent basement cleaning, I came across some old pages and was stunned at how danged big they used to be.

There's a point where these print versions get small enough that they become hard to read, and I think the PiPress has crossed that line. Once that happens, what's the point of printing it at all? It actually would be easier to read online.

The text in the Marmaduke comic, particularly, would be very hard on older eyes:

Two panels from the Marmaduke comic
But then, maybe there's not much point in reading Marmaduke, anyway.